Tin, wood, paper, and plaster are scattered across the workshop of a small museum in Arimaonsen, a quaint hot spring town in Hyogo Prefecture, near Kobe. The projects on the tables are in various stages of completion and repair. A fox’s eyes peer playfully through the glass, into a room full of whimsy. Antique automata and their paper cousins fill the room, astounding visitors with their clever, and curious, engineering.
Arimaonsen is famous for three things: its hot springs, its cider, and its museums. The Arima Automata and Toys Museum houses well over a hundred different automata from all throughout history, some dating back to tea serving robots in China, all the way to the modern “Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Real Estate Agent.”
I’ve visited this museum twice, and each time it has been wonderful. However, talking about automata is not nearly as fun as showing them off, so I’ve created a small video of my favorites:
In addition to the displayed automata, visitors can take part in workshops showing how to create these fragile machines, or buy pre-made cutouts to assemble at home. An entire floor is dedicated to nutcrackers and other old wooden, German toys. At various times of the day, there is also a short lecture, featuring an exceptionally rare (and expensive) nightingale music box. Modern recreations of this type of automata can run for as much as $5,000.
If you’d like to see more photos of the museum, feel free to visit my Flickr gallery: